The car on the hoist at the Capital Heights Auto Clinic needs a new catalytic converter. Morgan Kraft – with an air wrench in his hands and a penlight in his mouth – wastes little time taking out the old converter and inserting the new one.
It’s not something she thought she was doing eight months ago when she started doing oil changes in the shop’s lubricants department. She is the only woman among seven mechanics in the workshop.
In 2020, about 9% of workers in the U.S. auto repair and maintenance industry were women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are approximately 743,000 auto technicians in the United States and less than 2% – less than 15,000 – are women.
Kraft joined the staff in April and believed she would stay in the lubricants department. Her transition to what she calls real repairs started with her boss once telling her, “Come on, do this,” Kraft said.
“I got it,” she said.
She soon found herself working on tires and brakes and doing wheel alignment. She is now doing exhaust work, front repairs and “a lot of spark plugs”.
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“I like it,” she said. “For me, it’s like taking a puzzle apart and putting it back together. “
Kraft, like many women in the auto technician field, became interested with the help and advice of a family member. His father taught him to change a puncture, put on winter tires and change his oil. That’s how it turned out for 22-year-old Autumn Goecke of Bismarck, a sophomore automotive technician at Bismarck State College.
“He taught me all the easy things, oil changes, brakes, regular vehicle maintenance,” Goecke said.
Goecke is the only woman in her class. She has been an apprentice technician at Eide Chrysler for over a year and said there is nothing stopping a woman from advancing in a field traditionally dominated by men.
“It all depends on the capacity and the quality of your work,” she said.
Industry veterans seem to agree. Women in the auto repair field often bring – in addition to mechanical skills – a certain level of comfort with customers, especially women, said Peter Mandt, associate professor at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.
“They understand the point of view,” he said.
There is a perception of the ‘old fashioned mechanic’ that takes some young people away from the pitch, Mandt said. It often takes someone to spark their interest and show them the rewards. This is what prompted three young women to enroll in the BSC Auto Crash Course. Hannah Deichert’s grandfather and stepfather are mechanics, but her interest in bodywork was manifested when her mother’s colleague backed up in her car. She was in her final year of high school and started working on her own car in the bodywork class.
“I realized it was pretty fun,” said Deichert, 18. “I like to see the finished project, put some hard work into it and make it look beautiful. “
It was much the same with Carly Seidler, whose interest in cars began when she was little. She attended auto shows with her grandfather and loved the satisfaction of taking something “not so great and you fix it and make it look brand new,” she said.
Alexys Kramber, 18, of Garrison, brings his experience with an airbrush to the body shop. She painted fishing lures with her father, which made her realize what can be done with a paint gun. Women should step out of their comfort zone “and do what they have to do,” Kramber said.
“You can’t be bad at something you never try, and you can’t be good at something you’re never ready to learn,” she said.
Seidler and Kramber plan to take their studies to the next level. Seidler is considering an associate degree in automotive technician and Kamber wants to add upholstery skills to his resume. Both said that paying attention to detail is one of the traits that sets women apart from men. Bismarck and Mandan Tire and Auto Center owner Rachel Gietzen agrees. She said that was one of the reasons she wouldn’t hesitate to hire a woman for her shop.
“Everyone has different strengths that they bring to the table, male or female,” Gietzen said. “For me, a good team is a diverse team. “
The demand for auto technicians is high and the supply short, Gietzen said. The field is “very different from the old days” as mechanics must have computer literacy, understand complex vehicle systems and adapt to changes as new models are produced.
“They don’t just tighten bolts,” she said. “This is an area where you can have a great career.”
Collision students studied a number of topics including metal finishing, welding, surface preparation, and cost estimation. No woman in this or previous classes would have to take precedence over anyone, said instructor Richard Bahm.
“They’re ready to flirt with anyone,” he says.
Kraft has relaxed her role at Capital Heights and said the men she works with are always ready to answer questions. More women should try the area, she said.
“It’s pretty cool that you know what you’re talking about when it comes to vehicles,” she said.
The men and women of the collision class get along well, cheer each other on and compliment each other on their work, Kamber said. There are of course a few jokes, but Kamber said women are often one step ahead of men.
“Sometimes they (the men) don’t even know what to say,” she said.
Contact Travis Svihovec at 701-250-8260 or Travis.Svihovec@bismarcktribune.com